Having been a passenger on the Miracle on the Hudson plane in 2009, Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias is famously familiar with crashes.

But US Airways flight 1549 wasn't his first unscheduled touchdown. That came years earlier and, though it wasn't potentially lethal, the memory is just as searing. In 2000, Elias and Dan Feldstein opened an online discount and loyalty business called Red F. The two had worked together at another company in the 1990s and became good friends through a mutual love of basketball, chess, and business. As Elias puts it, they "wanted to build a company we would want to work for."

Shortly after opening their doors, though, the dot-com crash dashed the plan. "By the time we packed our bags and started heading up the mountain," says Elias, "everyone was rushing down." Their $2 million in startup cash had dwindled to about $100,000, which set the company on a course that would define its culture: Evolve continuously. "We were low on capital, so we went into survival mode trying to generate cash," says Elias. "We had to figure out a way to restart the business."

The restart became Red Ventures, a portfolio of companies in digital marketing and integrated e-commerce. Today, it owns CreditCards.com, Reviews.com, and MyMove.com, among others, a segment the company calls "integrated marketplaces." The sites dispense news, advice, and reviews, and allow consumers to compare products being offered by advertisers. Red Ventures earns money when they buy. Then, in 2017, the company made a move to become a dominant player in the space, spending $1.4 billion to buy Bankrate, including sites such as bankrate.com and the Points Guy.

Connecting consumers to credit card, energy, and banking companies catapulted Red Ventures to No. 4 on the Inc. 500 list in 2007; by 2015, the company was valued at more than $1 billion, and it is now worth twice that. Red Ventures has posted double-digit growth for the past decade. Headquartered just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, it has offices across the U.S. and in London and São Paulo.

Expect another big shift, and soon. "What we are today is significantly different from what we were 18 months ago," says Elias, "and significantly different from 36 months ago, and completely different from 54 months ago. The only thing that you can conclude is, 18 months from now, we will be different again."

That's why the company has built a culture predicated on adaptability. Elias relocates himself periodically, and employee teams are changed on a regular basis to keep things fresh, promote learning, and avoid complacency. This credo is posted on the wall at the Curve, the company's new learning development center: "Everything is written in pencil."

Even disrupters get disrupted, especially as they get bigger, Elias says--better to do it to your own company before someone else does. "The idea has changed countless times over the years. So, the idea is a lot less relevant than the team you do it with--and how you do it." 

From the July/August 2019 issue of Inc. Magazine